Aggregator • Mideast Youth • ID=79893
Authority is inseparable from territory. Power can accumulate weapons, scientific knowledge, intelligenzia, but we all know that without territory, power is an empty shell. Territory gives power a sense of security and privacy, of enclosure, but also a constant fear of invasion from the outside.
That same night, the ministry of Interior justified this retaliation by claiming it was preserving public order, following a ministerial decision to ban protests in Habib Bourguiba Avenue issued a few days earlier, on the basis that it hindered commercial activity. The brutal attack on protesters added to the tension; but it was a predictable reaction. What was not very much predictable was the vivid support expressed by many of the supporters of the ruling party that saw in this reaction legitimate self-defence against what they called plotters, blindly or deliberately missing the point that among those protesters were hundreds of unemployed young people who travelled to the capital on foot, choosing to time their arrival with the day of April 9th to assemble and protest in Habib Bourguiba Avenue, where the memorable manifestation on January 14th took place. There was a dissonance caused by the two emotionally charged reactions, one which believed that police retaliation is a legitimate reaction to protect what their called ‘the legitimacy of their elected party', and one which saw in the ban of the Habib Bourguiba Avenue a strict violation on freedom and the right to protest, the biggest asset of the revolution, but mostly, a betrayal on the side of their countrymen who sided with the government.
Protesters see things differently; for them, time and space, history and territory become warped in a single dimension in the act of protest, something very close to the experience of trance. Like any life changing event, the revolution took the form of a journey, travelling from the midlands to lay anchor in Habib Bourguiba Avenue in January 14th. For the many unemployed people who marched on foot on April 09th, they were re-enacting the sacred journey or the pilgrimage from source to destination, from bondage to liberation, and there is barely any spiritual or religious movement in the world which does not acknowledge this ideal of pilgrimage to the source as a journey from chains to freedom, which we can see in the ritual of pilgrimage to Mecca among Muslims and the celebration of Passover among Jewish communities to name but a few.
Likewise, the rebel and the protester are people who are always anxious about returning to the source, for them, to forgive and to forget is to betray, and it is a message that is difficult to understand for individuals and systems reared on traditional patterns of power, yearning to believe that a moment of stability is all that populations need to thrive. However, the young man, the one who has known betrayal and who has experienced the pleasure of being the absolute master of the streets, hates stability and loves to remain in constant suspicion, and to do this, he must enact and re-enact his belonging to the street, the territory that emblematises conflict.
The Occupy movement that sprang all over the world beautifully exemplified this idea, contesting the iron fist of power in an ingenious way: it dragged systems into a contest of self-control, in which systems lost, as pictures showing the brutality of the police demonstrated. The protesters affirmed and reaffirmed their bond with the street, something that made the answers of governments that they are the guardians of order become totally absurd.
One example of the most pitifully ridiculous displays of power was the news that circulated in the press worldwide about Russian police banning protest dolls, after authorities repeatedly rejected demands by Russian activists to hold a protest. In a similar display, communication is totally lost, what is intended was not at all understood, and while the street captures the humour, power sees only defiance and remains an outsider both to the light-hearted joke and to the solemn story. According to a protest organiser,
“The authorities’ attempt to limit citizens’ rights to express their position has become absurd.” (source)
Facing this, power can only react in the method it knows best: to oppress its opponents, and to impose bans on their chosen symbols:
Police have tried to pressure them into shutting down the doll protests, organisers said. “They tried to tell us our event was illegal ' they even said that to put toys in the snow, we had to rent it from the city authorities.” (source)
Dissent is the fuel of change, and to lose faith in dissent is to renounce change. It is one lesson learned from April 9th 1938, another journey to the source that the youth wanted to re-enact in 2012. When Ali Balhouene arranged the protest of 8 and 9 April 1938 to protest colonial rule in Tunisia, the main instigator was a conference arranged a few days earlier the theme of which was the role of youth in national liberation, an event that paved the way for liberation, and for which those youth paid with blood.
70 years later, not much has changed, and yet much has changed. Disruption of public order and the violation of law are still the statements used to embellish the oppression of youth, to extricate dissent as if it were bad blood. What has not changed is this: the street remains the home of the homeless and the refuge of the outcast and the voiceless; it is the artery that never forsakes its blood, even if it is bad blood.
But the norms of those youth now drastically deviate from those of their ancestors. They are creative, unpredictable, and to the dismay of power and those who cherish order, provocative to an infuriating degree. Courage and heroism still inspires them, but it is a different type of courage: it is the courage of the virtual space, a world with no boundaries, a space where bodies collide against each other in total anonymity, in which the lustful embrace and the inebriating smell of sweat are imaginary, and yet strong enough to make them willing to risk arrest and thrashing in the non-virtual space.
On the 5th of August, a gathering of a number of civil society activists was dispersed by police order. The gathering initiated by the movement Doustourna was meant to protest the deteriorating social conditions in Tunisia, and the restrictions on civil rights and civil liberties, intensified by the arrest of Sofiane Chourabi, a young Journalist, after being accused of consuming liquor one day before. Though the size of the event seemed negligible in the absence of major casualties, it is promising a vivid return to oppression. The gathering was denied a license by the ministry of the interior, and this again poses questions about whether the government is planning a long term control over the Avenue of Habiba Bourguiba, a place oozing with symbolic meaning. Yet, whenever governments retaliate with coercion, taking refuge in their tenable power, they conversely show the first signs of weakness, of fear to lose that power, and it is what this silent war to restore Habib Avenue to the harbour of government's control signifies. ... more